No written will, no way for loved ones to know

All of us know the expression, "Where there is a will, there is a way" and perhaps we've even used it when we want to motivate someone, (maybe ourselves), that with determination achieving something or anything is possible.

As I thought about a topic for this week's column, it struck me that the same expression could be used for advanced planning or care planning.

Get it?

In other words: No written will, no way anyone knows how you want your legacy known. No advanced care planning, no way anyone can ensure your health care decisions are known and acted upon if you aren't able to communicate.

National Advanced Care Planning Day is April 16 and clearly I'm not setting a very good example in advanced planning; by the time this column is printed, the day will have come and gone.

Ahem, let's carry on shall we?

According to the Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association, "Advance care planning is a process of reflection and communication, a time for you to reflect on your values and wishes, and to let others know your future health and personal care preferences in the event that you become incapable of consenting to or refusing treatment or other care."

In other words, it's about talking to your loved ones about what kind of health-care decisions you'd like to make if you couldn't use your own voice to do so. A 2012 Ipsos Reid study showed that over 85 per cent of Canadians hadn't heard of advanced care planning and 50 per cent of us haven't broached the topic with family and friends.

Our family was among these statistics.

Back in 2006, my Dad had a massive stroke followed by a grand mal seizure rendering him unconscious. After three days of no improvement and showing no signs of change, our family had to make the painful decision of taking him off life support. Although we presumed to know what his wishes were, there wasn't 100 per cent certainty that Dad would have voiced to take him off life support. Although we don't dwell on the "what-if scenarios" and I think as a family we made the right decision, all of us would have felt more reassured and at peace if Dad had assigned a Substitute Decision Maker (someone to make medical and treatment decisions on behalf of another person when they can't communicate their own wishes).

The Speak Up campaign is about encouraging families and individuals to talk about their health care wishes.  There are a few places to start:

•    Check out the National Advanced Care Planning website and How to Make a Plan at

•    Get involved locally with the Comox Valley Advanced Care Planning at

•    Read more on Incapacity Planning:  Representation Agreements and Enduring Powers of Attorney at

Over the next month, I'll find local experts to share on advanced care planning; power of attorney, representation agreements, end of life care planning, wills and estates.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Thursday.

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